"The last thing I need right now is to be babysitting some rookie. Attach him to someone else. Now, I have work to do -"
I couldn't help but hear. A woman's voice, it was filled with anger and bitterness. Approaching Captain Rensen's office, where I was supposed to be reporting, I almost collided with its owner, who was on her way out.
Blond hair writhed as she flung her head back, flicking the bright mass out of her face. Cold, pale eyes, with a surprising amount of human hurt in them alongside the fury I'd been expecting, settled on me.
They slid away again dismissively. She made to push past, to continue on her way.
Behind her, somebody coughed with intent. Captain Rensen stood there, arms folded across his chest. "Detective Lockley - Officer Doyle," he introduced, pointedly.
The woman looked at me again, and this time those eyes fairly glowed with anger. She opened her mouth, clearly intending to object strenuously.
Rensen wielded a finger at her in a characteristic gesture which even I, not knowing him all that well, could read as a clear sign he was reaching the end of his patience on the issue. "Show him the ropes. If all goes well, in a few months I'll think about reassigning both of you elsewhere... Am I understood, Kate?"
For a moment, she looked as though she was about to snap his head off. And I don't mean that metaphorically, either. But then she sighed and gave in with a weary, "Yes, sir."
Over her shoulder, the police captain shot me a glance that was half apologetic, and half amused.
"All right," she snapped, once we were in the car, reaching across to grab my arm and my attention as I fumbled with the safety belt. "I've a lot to do. You don't get to ask questions. You don't get to talk. You get to follow me around and keep your mouth shut, because I don't have time for this. I've no doubt Renson and the rest of the station finds this all extremely funny, but you're the last thing I need. You wouldn't even be here, if it wasn't for the current crisis, but unfortunately officers are needed right now so the department's taking whatever it can get.
"As far as I'm concerned, Renson's out of his mind accepting you - and the rest of that latest batch they rushed through the training program. You're going to get yourself killed and then we'll have yet another LAPD corpse on our hands. But then, the public are demanding more officers on the streets, and with our people dropping like flies right now, recruitment isn't exactly at an all-time high."
"I know that," I interrupted, somewhat irritably. "That's part of why I wanted to be here, believe it or not -" Or why those damnable visions wanted me here, at any rate.
She stared at me blankly. "You must have seen those pictures that leaked to the press and..." I nodded in confirmation. "You're crazy," she concluded.
I'd seen the pictures, all right. I'd seen them in glorious vision-induced Technicolor as well as front page black-and-white print. They weren't pretty either way. And I continued nodding, since I suspected she was probably right on that second count, too.
She sighed and muttered under her breath something that sounded a lot like, "What the hell. I guess that makes two of us, then."
We set out in Kate's unmarked police car. I watched her as she drove: in return, her eyes stared straight ahead, studiously ignoring me. I noticed there were bruises on the side of her face, and a long scrape on her right hand that was almost healed. Looked like she'd seen a bit of action, recently. She had the air of someone who'd been doing this a while. And I supposed she had reason enough to be stressed out, what with all the killings and all.
We'd been driving about ten minutes when the call came in on the radio in a burst of almost unintelligible, scratchy static. Kate answered, then swung the car around, cursing. "Well, you're about to see what it is everybody's been talking about - and the Chronicle's most notorious scoop of the day - firsthand," she told me.
I didn't tell her I'd already seen it, in vague, blood-soaked flashes which had left me crouched over the sink for half an hour. Minutes later, we pulled up at the mouth of an alley. I could see a couple of uniformed officers already there, but they seemed to be concentrating largely on keeping the curious public out.
The late morning sunlight was streaking down the sides of the buildings to wash the alleyway in a golden glow that was anything but ominous. Kate's expression was grim, though, and I didn't much like the idea of what we were going to find as we walked towards that little huddle of sun-streaked darkness the uniforms were protecting.
There were two bodies, dumped side by side against the wall. From what Kate had said, I knew they'd been cops, but from the mess they were in it would barely have been possible to tell they were human. Somebody had set to work on them with a large-bladed instrument of some kind, like an axe or a meat cleaver. In parts they were practically sliced and diced.
Their clothes were sodden as well as shredded, and the whole mess was bad beyond any chance of distinguishing at a glance if they'd been in uniform when they were killed. Not that it mattered. From the reports I'd read in the news and what I'd heard since I signed up, whoever was responsible for the butchering was doing their research. This was a systematic campaign to wipe out as many of the LAPD as they could get, whether they happened to be on duty or not. Somebody was waging war against the law in this city.
Chillingly, I now confirmed something else that hadn't reached the press - because even with all the gore I could see, there wasn't anywhere near two whole bodies' worth of blood there, although the sheer size of those cuts should have spilled it all.
Although I felt near enough to throwing up already, I knelt down for a closer look at the neck of one of the corpses.
I couldn't not look...
There was a gaping slash in the side of the neck, just where the bite marks would have been. As I studied it, trying to choke back my increasing urge to vomit, a cockroach crawled out of the depths of the wound.
It was the last straw. Kate saw that it was and yanked me to my feet by a fierce grip on my collar, thrusting me away from the corpses. "Don't puke on the crime scene!"
I staggered over to the mouth of the alley and spent several fairly wretched minutes getting reacquainted with what little I'd managed to choke down for breakfast.
I could hear Kate shouting orders and I knew more people had arrived. I was vaguely aware of her voice discussing the matter with another detective, a conversation which ended with her saying she had other cases to attend to so she'd be on her way now, and he should let her know if anything else came up.
Hearing that, I pulled myself together and headed back to the car, fairly dreading what she'd have to say about this. She shot me a weary, irritated look as I climbed in.
I guess I could have hoped for a better start to my first day on the job.
The rest of that day set a depressing pattern for our working relationship over the next few weeks. While Kate wasn't outright aggressive, she didn't leave me in any doubt that she'd be happy to lose me altogether, and I quickly gave up trying to forge any kind of friendly relationship. We simply learned to put up with each other.
I mostly tried to keep my head down, endured the additional trials of my new life, and hoped things would improve.
In those weeks I noticed that Kate often came in to work looking exhausted as hell, occasionally sporting a bruise or scrape that I knew hadn't happened while she was at work. She also, on those days, let a gasp or a wince escape once or twice, as though there were other deeper hurts I couldn't see. Maybe she was taking her work home with her, or maybe she was into dangerous sports. I wasn't about to pry into her personal life. I knew she lived in an apartment across town which was a good deal better than mine, because I'd met her outside there for work a few times. I knew she was single, and not seeing anyone, because of all the jokes around the guys at the station about how she seriously needed to get some.
She seemed to attract more than a few whispers, rumours, and sideways looks. I managed to get a few of the other guys at the station to tell me the story. According to them, she'd basically been self-destructing for some time. Up until several months ago, she'd been a solid, responsible officer. Then her father had died, and it was after that she'd gradually metamorphosed into some kind of maverick cop.
There was a sadness there, something desperate and driven, that powered that outer bitch.
She lived like she expected to die tomorrow. Like she might even welcome the event.
Her view of me didn't improve any, and the incident with the gun-toting maniac at the beach about a week after our introduction didn't help.
Thing was, this lunatic was waving a gun around in the midst of all the kids and the tourists, threatening to cause a massacre. I had a clear line of fire. But I hesitated, and didn't take the shot, despite the fact Kate was screaming at me from twenty feet away to pull the trigger. Another cop took him down a few seconds later, and got a bullet in the leg for his pains.
I knew Kate was right, I should've fired. A whole lot of people could've died because I didn't. I was bloody lucky it worked out all right, and the only damage done was to the cop who took him down, and that just a flesh wound which healed within a couple of weeks.
But what Kate didn't, couldn't understand was that I had this creature within me. Demons prey on people - and me, I was half one of them. I couldn't take that shot because if I killed him it wouldn't be a human killing a human, it'd be a demon killing a human.
I was just too afraid of crossing that line, afraid it might burst the dam and set loose this monster inside me. Even though I still didn't know what it was capable of, and it only spoke to me as a bundle of tracking and fighting instincts when I took on its form, and didn't speak to me at all at other times. Its instincts weren't those of a killer so far as I'd yet been able to determine... but, still, that was a form made to do damage, with those spikes and that strength.
I guess it was the same problem in training. That was why I'd come so close to flunking, though I knew much better how to do the fighting, by then - against vamps, at least. When I went up against humans, I had resources they couldn't tap, I could inflict levels of damage they couldn't touch, and it felt wrong.
I got over that one in time, for the most part.
At work, my relations with others in the department were indifferent at best. I'd found, since Harry's death, that I didn't relate too easily to people any more, knowing I wasn't completely one of them. I took to coming into work with my mind set on a kind of autopilot unless actual immediate danger was involved, saving my energy for the evenings.
I still got those weird visions, and they still needed answering, though I had no more clue as to what they were now than when I'd had the very first one. I told myself it was something to do with my demon half, and subdued the impression I occasionally had that these images weren't coming from anything that was within me.
At any rate, I had these visions, and I had a weapon with which to answer their call... and I was learning, all the time, through those night-time excursions and the job that I hated.
And if it wasn't exactly the best time in my life, it was survival, and I was getting by in this weird world where Harry was dead and I was some kind of monster.
Somehow I was getting through. Doing what was required and managing not to get killed - although it came close a few times. Luckily, the demon was resilient; the neck-snapping thing wasn't the half of it.
Fighting wasn't the only thing I did those nights, either. I was also getting to know a part of this city I'd never had a clue existed. Because I wasn't the only demon out there. There were a multitude of different kinds, who generally had nothing to do with the vamps. They had a world of their own existing within our... the human one; I kept finding more bars and clubs and other hangouts which humans seemed to know instinctively to avoid.
I was making more contacts within that world, too. Even demons are partial to a friendly wager, or a round of drinks, and I picked up a few of my bad habits - not to mention debts - that way.
Not that I wanted to associate with these guys particularly closely. But it was useful to have any extra sources of information, and I was discovering that demon blood could be a handy ticket to a little insider knowledge in these circles.
And I was getting used to the fact that, having access to both worlds and belonging to neither, you had to take what you could get.
"Shit!" Desperately rushing around trying to find where, in all the mess of my apartment, I'd last slung my gun and badge, I skidded on a newspaper I'd left thrown on the floor. I came down hard on my other foot, trying to catch my balance without looking where I was standing, and heard and felt the crunch of glass breaking.
After dealing with the previous night's vision, I'd seen to my cuts and bruises, then downed about half a pint of whiskey and staggered off to bed at around 6am.
Having spent most of the day comatose, I was now supposed to be dragging myself into work again.
The floor was covered by a sea of unwashed clothes, newspapers, research notes, stakes and other assorted junk, including the odd bottle scattered around into the mix. At times, the drink had been all that got me through the months since Harry's death.
She'd have thrown a fit to see me livin' like this, that was for sure.
I snarled out a curse, my mind retreating from that thought, and avoiding the broken glass - I'd see to it later, if I remembered - I kicked aside the junk, continuing to search frantically. If I was late again this week, Kate really would make good her latest threat to report me, and then my new life, such as it was, would be down the drain before it had barely begun.
I pulled aside another empty bottle that looked promisingly like last night's. The badge was underneath it, and the gun wasn't far away.
I glanced at my watch. I had less than ten minutes to get across town to the station.
Swearing, I added gun and badge to the muted Responsible Little Cop ensemble, ran a hand through my hair in place of a comb, and hurried out the door.
Kate and I were working evenings and nights mostly, and like pretty much the majority of the force we were assigned to trying to track down the gang of cop-killers who were still evading capture. I was sure they were vampires, the way they always hid their tracks with that final slash across their victim's throats, not to mention the fact the visions seemed to be steering me towards them... but I wasn't about to offer that particular piece of information up to aid the enquiry.
I hadn't come close to them yet, and wasn't sure what I'd do when I did. There were at least three of them, from the evidence and reports collected. I wasn't sure I was ready to handle three vampires, alone.
It was a relatively warm evening, and a short walk - well, okay, sprint - later I reached the station, sweating, with my jacket over my arm. Kate was already waiting in the car to set out on a case. I climbed in next to her, only a minute or two late after all, hoping Detective Lockley was in a good mood today. Or at least a less bad mood.
I felt hung over, and still sick and shaky from the events of the previous night. I slung my jacket across the back of the seat and, as Kate pulled out, fumbled in the pockets for my lighter and a smoke, in an effort to calm my nerves.
"You just dare light that freakin' cigarette, and I will stop this car and personally ram the whole packet so far down your throat you won't need a surgical team to extract it," Kate snarled between gritted teeth.
No, Detective Lockley was not in a good mood today.
Since she sounded pissed off enough to actually carry out that threat, I sighed and moved to replace the cigarettes in my jacket, a home they were leaving with increasing rarity the more time I spent around Kate.
As the vision hit, my hand closed spasmodically around the packet, crushing it and its contents flat.
'Not now!' I thought. So far, I'd managed to keep the visions and work mostly separate, passing off the few I'd had in more public circumstances as dizzy spells. And so far, I'd managed to hide them completely from Kate.
But I was only peripherally aware of those concerns, and of the side of my face hitting the window as the convulsions shook my body, as the vision swept me up. My brain was far too full of the images being forced into it - of a girl who was about to become a meal for a heavily-muscled, tattooed vamp with host of ironmongery pierced through various body parts. The vision closed-up on a street sign before flashing out of my brain again as abruptly as it had arrived.
Kate was swearing and pulling the car in to the side of the street. When she saw I was more or less back in the world again, she snapped, "What the hell was -?"
"Don't stop," I croaked. I shook myself, still feeling lousy. "We need to be on 106th street. Trouble's going down, near there. Something we need to -"
The protest had no effect on her whatsoever. The car's breaks screeched as she drew it to a halt. "How do you figure that, huh? We're not going anywhere until you tell me what just happened. You've got some kind of condition you've been hiding from the quacks... boy, is this my lucky day..."
"I heard the radio," I protested weakly. "We gotta -"
"Bullshit! There was nothing on the radio. Come clean, Doyle."
The girl could be getting dead even as Kate argued with me. I knew I wouldn't get there in time if I got out of the car and ran, and I certainly didn't have time to talk her around. I didn't have a minute to waste, never mind a millennium.
I lunged head-first into the foot-space in front of the driver's seat, and slammed my hand down on the accelerator. My shoulders wedged uncomfortably, but the car was moving and my weight was crushing Kate's legs back against the seat and blocking her from the pedals.
She yelled as the car shot forward. The hand-brake jabbed into my thigh and I kicked at her as she tried to reach it. "You're going to kill us both!" she shouted, trying to haul me up with one hand while her other swung the steering wheel desperately, throwing us this way and that. I clung stubbornly to her legs.
"Bloody steer, then!" I yelled, as she tried to knee me in the face. "106th! There's a girl about to get ea...killed if we don't get there fast!"
Something in my tone, coupled with the insane desperation of my actions, must have convinced or at least made her curious enough to want to find out what all this was about. She did as I asked, although she didn't stop swearing at me.
It was a relief when she finally yelled that we were there and I allowed her to pull up. I did have a momentary concern that she might have driven us back to the station instead, but when I awkwardly clambered out from under the seat I saw we were indeed where we were supposed to be.
"Get off!" Kate's fist impacted solidly in the centre of my back as I climbed over her to the passenger seat. The shove propelled me the rest of the way rather quicker than I'd intended. My hand caught the door handle and I fell out of the car to land in a bruised heap on the sidewalk.
I staggered to my feet and ran towards the almost deserted parking lot I'd seen in my vision, aware of Kate yelling after me.
The events from the vision were playing out in the shadow-ridden far corner of the lot. The vamp had the girl backed up against the hood of a car and was reaching for her throat. She was screaming, but there'd have been nobody to hear her, if not for the vision which had brought me...
And Kate. I didn't know if she was following me or not. Hopefully I could dust the vamp quickly before she saw anything and tell her the attacker had run off.
My stake was in the pocket of my jacket... which was slung over the back of my seat in the car. I cursed.
I didn't slow down as I reached them, but ran straight at the vamp, aiming to knock him aside so the girl could make a run for it. My weight only caused him to stagger a bit. He backhanded me across the face and I fell against the side of a nearby car.
Looking beyond his shoulder, I was relieved to see the girl sprinting hell for leather out of there. I was less pleased to see Kate charge through the entrance to the parking lot, with her gun held firmly in both hands and with an extremely pissed off expression painted across her face.
I kicked the vampire where it'd have most effect, and punched him in the face as he curled over. The ironmongery in his nose and lip shredded my knuckles, but it couldn't have felt particularly pleasant from where he stood, either.
Kate was staring at the vamp with amazement and shock. I couldn't say I blamed her; with his twisted, distorted features there could be little doubt he wasn't human.
But... hell, explaining to Kate that monsters were real was the last thing I needed.
The vampire spat blood and the metal ring from his lip came out along with the disgusting red glob. That seemed to piss him off all the more. He retaliated with a growl and an awkward, angry punch I blocked easily... a mistake, as it turned out. I was still pretty new to this whole physical combat deal. He changed the direction of his lunge, catching my wrist and twisting my arm around almost to the point of dislocation. Using that leverage, he forced me back, pinning me to the hood of the car. I snatched for the gun with my free hand, hoping bullets might be enough to break the vampire's grip even if they couldn't kill it.
Before I'd even drawn the weapon, though, the pressure on my arm vanished, and the vamp was drifting through the air in an explosion of dust.
On the other side of the dust stood Kate, one arm still outstretched. Her hand was clamped around the sharpened stake she'd thrust through the vampire's heart.
We stared at each other. I imagined the shock I saw in her eyes was mirrored in my own.
Slowly, I stood up, brushing the dust from my clothes.
I swallowed. One of us was going to have to speak first. "That's one done and dusted, huh?" I managed to joke, somewhat weakly.
Kate opened and closed her mouth a few times, starting to speak and then biting it off. "You know?" she said finally, her voice a choked whisper. "About the... vampires?" The last word took a long time for her to force it out.
I flopped back against the car, winding up sitting on the floor in a tired heap when my legs gave way. My head couldn't take this, on top of the fight and the vision.
Kate was massaging her own forehead with her fingers, and from the pained expression on her face, her headache was about as bad as mine.
After a moment, she turned around, her expression full of grim determination.
"Doyle," she said, and I think it was the first time she'd said my name without that sneer in her voice. "We need to have a talk... and a drink."
The place we went to was a little bar tucked away from the main streets. We'd both stayed quiet on the way. I know I wasn't sure how to deal with this new realisation - Kate, for all I knew, was just enjoying making me sweat.
She went to the counter to order drinks, and from the way the guy serving chatted to her, she was something of a regular.
She returned with two pints. I could've used something a little stronger, but since she was buying and it was the single friendly gesture I'd ever received from her, I saved the complaint.
The table she'd chosen was hidden away in a dingy corner, about as private as you could get within a public bar. I wondered if she came there often to sit nursing a drink and that pain which coloured her face with bitterness.
She sat down opposite me, and sipped her beer, watching me as though she was taking in everything anew. "Are you hurt?" she asked, after a moment.
It was unexpected, and although her tone was neutral rather than actually concerned, it surprised me enough that all I could muster in reply was a fairly incoherent, "Huh?"
"I said, are you hurt? That fight looked pretty rough." She sounded irritated with having to repeat herself. I tried to scrape what remained of my wits together before I missed whatever small opportunity this might offer to dispel her hostility.
I shook my head. "Bruises. Nothing." I had more from last night. I took a long drink, trying to remember the last time I'd eaten as I felt the alcohol hit my stomach.
After some hesitation, she said, "You seemed to do better fighting that vampire than against any of the human opponents I've seen you attempt to take on... You've had some practice, right?"
"I guess that's true," I said, thinking of six month's worth of nights spent chasing down vamps, both vision-related and not. Six months of beatings and crawling home half dead, for the major part. Certainly in those very early days. "But, something makes me suspect, so have you."
She nodded slowly, clearly as unwilling to share as I was. I'd never thought to have to explain this to anyone. I'd never thought I'd come across anyone I could explain it to.
"My wife," I managed eventually, hoarsely. "We were attacked. I survived, she didn't. After that, and knowin' that those things were out there, I had to do somethin', you know. Didn't have much luck goin' it alone, so that's why I joined up. Get some trainin', go kill vamps..." I scratched at the bite scar that was still in evidence on my neck, although hidden at that moment by my shirt collar. It was disappearing, slowly. It would probably be gone entirely within a few more months.
"And guess what, it's not that simple," she finished for me, with heavy irony. Her eyes had noticed the movement and she leaned over the table to snatch my hand away and pull back my collar.
After a second or two, she let go and leaned back in her seat again, eyes wide and tired and slightly freaked.
"They got my father," she said, curtly.
I'd already guessed that much.
"I interrupted them, but it was too late to save him." She continued reluctantly, obviously thinking she owed it to me somehow. I realised then that she'd taken the bite scar as all the explanation necessary as to what had happened in that first attack, and how I'd accidentally survived. I didn't feel like complicating things by explaining what had really happened. Far less did I feel any urge to tell her I wasn't wholly human myself. "I saw their faces, though, and I saw what they did to him. And, hard as it was to accept the myths were real... well, I accepted. And then I hunted them down and I staked them."
I envied her the revenge which lit a flare within her eyes when she said that. I'd yet to find a trace of the particular vampires who'd been responsible for Harry's death.
If she saw anything of that in my expression, she kept quiet about it. She cleared her throat. "So, are you going to tell me what happened to you in the car, and how you knew that girl needed rescuing?"
I explained, hesitantly, about the visions. The little I knew. She listened sceptically, but she couldn't deny the fact that I had known.
"Visions," she repeated. "Oh, hell, if vampires are real I guess I shouldn't scoff at visions. Let's just not mention this to the station psychs, Doyle - either of us." The humour in her voice was weary. I didn't laugh.
"You... didn't stop when you got your revenge, did you?" I asked. That was why the bruises, the strange hours, the snappish temper - all of which, I realised, I had probably borne in evidence as well. "You've kept killin' these things - extracurricular, like."
She nodded. "It wasn't enough, those first few vamps. These creatures are all over this city. The department doesn't know they exist, and how could I ever try to explain to my fellow officers that vampires are real? But... as long as I know they exist, I'm the goddamn Los Angeles Police force Department of Vampire Slaying right here, and I'm gonna make them feel the weight of the law."
The passion in her voice was clear, and the volume drew a few stares. She hushed it down a little. "After all, I was the only one who could," she added, quieter. Her eyes had no hostility in them now when they settled on me, it had been replaced with something that looked a lot like hope. I wondered what she was seeing - whether it was the same thing I was, looking at her. "I thought I was the only one who could."
She tried to hide the choked emotion there by downing the rest of her pint in an aggressive motion, but it was in vain.
I understood all too well. We'd both been trying to fight this fight alone for far too long.